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HPV Testing

An HPV test can help you reduce your risk for several cancers. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), some strains of HPV are strongly associated with cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, and anus. Knowing whether or not you have HPV can help you protect both yourself and your partner from this sexually transmitted infection (STI) and empower you to seek treatment if you test positive.

Who should get an HPV test?

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), you may need an HPV test if you are a female between the ages of 30 and 65. It adds that you may also need it if you are female and receive an abnormal result on a Pap smear, regardless of how old you are.

Females who think they have been exposed to HPV, or who are having symptoms of HPV, should also consider getting an HPV test. According to the CDC, symptoms of HPV may include genital warts, lumps, or sores.

HPV testing is not recommended for females under the age of 30 who have normal Pap smear results. The NLM says HPV infections are common, though cervical cancer is rare among females in this age group. It adds that most HPV infections in females under 30 usually clear up on their own without treatment.

Planned Parenthood says it’s ideal to get an HPV test every five years if you are between the ages of 25 and 65, and that an HPV test may not be necessary after you turn 65. It adds that the frequency at which you get tested for HPV usually depends on your age, medical history, and results of your last HPV or Pap tests.

If you have a weakened immune system or a history of cervical problems, your healthcare provider may recommend getting tested for HPV more frequently. You may also need frequent HPV testing if your mother took a medicine called DES while she was pregnant with you, adds Planned Parenthood. Your provider can recommend the frequency at which you should have an HPV test based on these and other factors.

How to get an HPV test

HPV testing is available only for females. An HPV test can usually be performed by the same healthcare provider who does your Pap smear. According to Planned Parenthood, you can get an HPV test from your doctor, a community health clinic, or a local health department. Many walk-in clinics and urgent care centers can also offer HPV testing. At-home HPV test kits are sold online and at many retail pharmacies.

Use Solv to find out where you can get an HPV test near you. Solv will display a map of all nearby testing providers along with information about their services, ratings, and reviews.

What to expect during an HPV test

An HPV test is performed exactly like a Pap smear, says the ACS. Your healthcare provider will use a special tool or swab to remove cells from your cervix so they can be tested for HPV.

First, your provider will ask you to lie on your back on an exam table and bend your knees, says the NLM. You may be asked to place your feet in stirrups.

Then, your provider will use an instrument called a speculum to help get a clearer view of your cervix. Your provider will then use a swab or other tool to collect a small sample of cells from your cervix. Afterward, your sample will be evaluated in a lab to determine whether you have HPV.

In most instances, your provider will contact you with your results when they are ready. Some providers may only contact you if your results come back positive. Be sure to ask about how to learn about your HPV test results during your appointment.

How to prepare for an HPV test

According to the NLM, you should not get an HPV test while you are on your period. It also recommends refraining from certain activities starting two days before your test. Activities you should avoid before an HPV test include using tampons, having sex, and using douche products, vaginal medicines, and birth control foams.

Contact the HPV test provider if you have concerns or questions regarding what you should and shouldn’t do before your test. Your healthcare provider may give you other suggestions to help ensure your test results are accurate.

Testing Positive for HPV

Your HPV test results will come back as either negative or positive, or as normal or abnormal.

Results that are negative or normal mean that you do not have a high-risk strain of HPV, reports the NLM. It adds that your healthcare provider may recommend coming back for another HPV test in five years or sooner based on your medical history and age.

Results that are positive or abnormal indicate that you have a high-risk strain of HPV. This means you may be at higher risk for developing cervical cancer at some point in the future.

If your HPV test results are positive, your healthcare provider will likely recommend coming back in so your abnormal cells can be treated or removed before they turn into cancer. Your provider may also ask you to come in more frequently for regular screenings so any abnormal cell activity can be closely monitored.

Positive or abnormal HPV test results may also lead to further testing to confirm whether or not you already have cancer. Colposcopy and cervical biopsy are examples of procedures your provider may perform to examine your condition, reports the NLM.

During a colposcopy, your provider will examine your vagina and cervix using a special magnifying tool called a colposcope. During a cervical biopsy, your provider will take a small sample of tissue from your cervix and examine it under a microscope.

The NLM adds that in many instances, HPV will clear up on its own without treatment.

Find HPV Testing near you

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HPV Testing FAQs

Sources

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

  1. HPV and HPV Testing (July 30, 2020)
    https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hpv/hpv-and-hpv-testing.html
  2. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Test (September 14, 2021)
    https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/human-papillomavirus-hpv-test/
  3. HPV and Men – Fact Sheet (April 18, 2022)
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-and-men.htm
  4. What's an HPV test?
    https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/cancer/cervical-cancer/whats-hpv-test
  5. Mailed Human Papillomavirus Self-Collection With Papanicolaou Test Referral for Infrequently Screened Women in the United States (January 2018)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846187/
  6. Next Steps after an Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Test: Understanding HPV and Pap Test Results (March 22, 2022)
    https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/understanding-abnormal-hpv-and-pap-test-results
  7. What do men know about HPV?
    https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/what-men-should-know

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